How to ensure your “free trial” advertising sticks to the rules

Subscription services have become a common part of modern life and in recent years, the subscription market has seen huge growth, in part accelerated by lockdown. With rising costs of living continuing to put a strain on the finances of many, subscription services offering “free trials” are likely to appear even more attractive to consumers. As such, it is important that marketers provide all material information in their advertising so that potential consumers know exactly what it is they are signing up for.

Follow our tips below to ensure that you promote your products and services in a compliant way.

Be transparent when offering a “free trial”

A free trial is not necessarily misleading in itself, however problems arise when a consumer unknowingly agrees to an ongoing subscription plan. This may be the result of an ad that misleads by omitting significant conditions or the significant conditions not being sufficiently clear. This situation has been described as a “subscription trap”.

This situation can be avoided if ads for a “free trial” or promotional subscription offer clearly communicate all significant conditions likely to affect a consumer’s decision to participate, in line with Rule 8.17 of the Code.

Ads for a “free trial” must make clear:

Be mindful of the prominence and placement of significant conditions

All material information a consumer needs to decide whether to commit to a subscription product or service must be included in the ad.

It should be worth noting that simply stating “T&Cs apply” won’t cut it when it comes to making any important information or relevant conditions clear to consumers; it’s key that the significant conditions are stated in the ad itself.

The ASA has previously ruled against advertisers who have displayed their terms and conditions in pop ups and hidden information away at the bottom of a long webpage. It is, therefore, vital for advertisers to ensure that significant conditions are prominent and immediately visible. Further, significant conditions should be distinct from other information and immediately follow the most prominent references to the trial or offer.

Although Rule 8.18 does allow for some information to be accessible elsewhere, it is only in very limited circumstances that the ASA will consider a media type to be “significantly restricted by time and space”. This is likely to be limited to sponsored ads on search engine sites and extremely small banner ads.  However, in most circumstances, the ASA expects advertisers to do all they can to include significant conditions in the ad itself. For example, marketers advertising on Twitter could include the terms and conditions of the subscription to their service or product in an image which accompanies the Tweet.

In short, if it’s not possible to include all relevant significant conditions within an ad, marketers should consider whether the media type in question is suitable to promote their product or service.

Want to find out more?

For more information on this area, please see CAP’s guidance on “free trials and other promotional subscription models” and the overview in our Advice Online article.

Our Compliance team have also recently published an Enforcement Notice about the digital advertising of “free trials” and other promotional subscription models. If you advertise a subscription service, please ensure you review the Notice and take immediate steps to check your advertising and make any changes needed.

If you need any further advice, contact our Copy Advice team who would be happy to impart their expert knowledge in the form of free, bespoke advice.

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